Things you should know before your Northern Lights tour

It’s a dream for many travellers.

The amazing green lights dance in different patterns and shapes. Illuminating under the clear and dark sky on a cold and mystic night, the world most stunning show can’t stop majestically performing.

chasinglights7

For me, I chase the lights across Northern Norway – Lofoten, Alta and Tromso, a total of 4 different nights in mid to late March 2016. Unfortunately, it’s snowing heavily in Lofoten. Alta has glimpses in a couple of minutes. So, I figure Tromso will be my best bet. I manage to catch the lights for two consecutive nights in Tromso. Indeed, it is very favorably located for viewing the Northern Lights.

The experience leads me to think about my friends in Asia who may need more time to adjust to the climate. I have seen folks unprepared in clothes. For instance, their gloves are meant for shopping in South Korea!

Before you get excited about it, there are few things to be aware.

Weather

My advice is to get yourself mentally (and probably physically) prepared. The harsh winds may take a toll on you. Buy quality base layer, comfortable mid layer and lastly, a thick waterproof/windproof jacket (outer shell) that are able to withstand temperature (-10 degrees). Get thick gloves and beanies. Don’t wear cotton-layered socks, go for wollen. Jeans are out of the question – wear a comfortable base layer and outer-shell.

Don’t look out for cheap pricing clothing only. Be selective, buy long-lasting gear. You can find more information here.

Usually, the staff in winter stores are able to help you. Tell them that you are heading to the Arctic Circle. I pick North Face brand due to the reliability and after-service care.

Now that you are ready:

When will Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) appear

No guarantee of course but the aurora is visible after dark, mostly between 6pm and midnight (and sometimes till 4am). In Tromso at Norway, the lights may appear occasionally between 4pm and 2am.  Best dates to see it is between late September and late March. If you ask me to pick a month, I will choose March.

The sky has to be clear, not cloudy and there must not be any rain or snow.

An interesting study done by NASA (see image below) predicts the 11 year cycle. 2011 to 2014 is the uptrend while the curve starts to decelerate in 2015. After 2016, the probability of the lights appearing is lower. This means we will anticipate almost a total shut off in 2018 to 2020 where the cycle hits rock bottom.

Considering 2014 is the peak of the cycle, using 11 years, the next peak-to-peak will be 2025. Therefore, 2025 is the highest chance to witness Northern Lights, provided there is no drastic climate change.

It also seems that each cycle quantum is getting shorter and shorter.

northern-lights-graph

Using this piece of information, it’s time for you to think of:

Self-Drive vs Land Tour 

Iceland, a vast hinterland that has the beauties of natural wonders. Majority of my friends rent a car to chase Aurora Borealis.  There is Hertz at the airport.  Great GPS signal with location-based capabilities built in and the road signs are easy to understand.

Be warned – no matter how experienced you are, if you lack practice and technical expertise to navigate snow and slippery roads (and I mean real thick wads of snow!), your car may be stuck at roads that are absolutely quiet. Surely, you do not wish to waste any time calling in for help.  Worst of all, if your car skid and you lose complete control, you pose a real danger to passengers in your car too.  Never underestimate the terrain, never be overconfident. I am not saying you should not drive but if you must, please slow down where necessary and take extra caution. Switch to lower gear around bends, step on your brake pedal intermittently but don’t slam it too hard for no apparent reason.

car-stuck-in-iceland

My opinion is, if you are a first-timer in Iceland, it’s better to pay extra dollar to get land tours.

At least you understand the terrain and have a guide to drive you, spot the lights together. It’s going to be fun as he brings you around. Refreshments are provided

Well, I take the land tour in Tromso, signing up with different companies – one of which is Tromso Safari. Pretty decent and these guys know where to take you. They prepare hot chocolate, help you out with your DSLR camera and take free photos with the lights.

Other tours such as Chasing Lights offer campfire, so that your toes are alive. There is hot soup or Norwegian packed ration meals that taste amazingly delicious – maybe it’s the feeling of having something warm in your tummy.

Equipment

Bring along your DSLR camera and spare batteries. Point and shoot camera will not work, less than 0.1% success. Camera phone is out of the equation. If you are on a land tour, they will lend you a sturdy tripod. Make sure you ask them first before signing up.

Carry 2x portable touches, a small umbrella, a bottle of water, snack bars, bread of light pastries. Put in a small day pack. There will hardly be any nearby washrooms, no 24/7 cafes except petrol kiosks which are miles away. It’s advisable to get your necessities first.

Finally:

Be open, be curious and try to forget the cold

Imagine yourself landing in a mysterious island. The next thing that crosses your mind is to explore, investigate deeper to look for clues. Likewise, you have to search for the phenomenal Northern Lights.

Thus, you need to drive miles away unless you have an experienced “Lights Hunter” on board. Don’t give up too easily, neither you should start complaining. Instead, take this opportunity of a lifetime to  open your mind – keep looking!

Witness the most fascinating natural light show on earth. Even if you have cold feet, the moment you see the lights, you will be in the thick of action clicking away your DSLR camera. Eventually, it’s mind over body……

I have the chance to capture beautiful memories of Aurora Borealis.

I am sure you will have a wonderful time.

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